The scientists are right – wearing a face mask helps prevent you from getting COVID-19, as well as protects others. A recent analysis of 64 studies shows that masks prevent the spread of COVID-19. Health care workers who wore face masks had a 50% to 80% reduction in contracting viruses, including novel coronaviruses. Even wearing stock surgical masks, which are not designed to filter particles from the air you breathe in, make significant reductions in the numbers of health care professionals infected by coronaviruses in clinical settings.
Wearing a face mask is truly a “we’re-all-in-this-together” behavior. However, it’s not just the mask that protects, but the whole list of other precautions and prevention techniques we should all be practicing all day, every day:
- Wear a face mask whenever you leave your house. That includes everyone over the age of 2. The mask should cover both your nose and mouth and tuck under your chin to keep droplets from escaping into the air. Whenever you return home, the mask should be disinfected or washed, if possible. Non-washable masks can be placed in sunlight to let the ultraviolet rays help destroy viruses and germs. Be sure you expose both sides to the sunlight. Spray disinfectants can also be used. The type of mask worn by non-health care workers is not as important as the fact that you have some sort of barrier between you and the rest of the world. Bandana, favorite scarf, homemade mask – use whatever you like as long as it’s cleaned regularly. More layers of cloth provide better protection. Be sure it sits snuggly on your face. Try not to touch the front of it when you put it on and take it off.
- Keep your distance (6 foot minimum!) from everyone except those with whom you are quarantining at home. Don’t let wearing a face mask lull you into thinking you are protected, and you don’t have to social distance. That could be a dangerous, even fatal, mistake. Don’t let it happen to you. This is hard to enforce with young children. Provide extra supervision when they’re in public or around their friends.
- Wash hands frequently BEFORE cooking, eating, touching your eyes/nose/mouth, caring for a sick person, taking medicine, or treating a cut or wound. Wash hands AFTER returning home, using the bathroom or changing a diaper, touching frequently touched surfaces, preparing food, caring for a sick person, cleaning up after a child, handling pets or their waste, treating a cut or wound, taking out the garbage, handling dirty laundry, and blowing your nose/coughing/sneezing.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects (cell phones, remote controls, light switches, faucets, countertops, keyboards, and handles on everything!) Dish soap and water solution works well. If you need something stronger, use a diluted bleach solution of 1 tablespoon chlorine bleach (Clorox or Purex) to 1 quart (4 cups) of water.
- Leave home only for essential errands. Social contact with anyone not in your quarantine group is non-essential. If you go to work outside your home, be sure your employer is disinfecting surfaces regularly and taking other distancing precautions, including personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Bathe and change clothes regularly. Wash clothing that has been worn in public after you return home. Leave your shoes outside or separate from the rest of the house traffic.
- Isolate anyone in your home who has illness or suspected illness. Include a separate bathroom if possible. Use your health care providers’ telemedicine services to avoid giving or getting viruses.
- Thoroughly cook meat and eggs.
Correct handwashing technique
- Use soap and cool running water to wash hands. If not available, use alcohol-based (with at least 60% alcohol) hand sanitizer. Alcohol-based sanitizer kills germs quickly and does not cause antibiotic resistance. And it causes less skin irritation than frequent washing with soap and water. Apply hand sanitizer to one palm and rub it over all surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry – should take about 20 seconds. However, research shows that hand sanitizers are less effective if your hands are visibly dirty or greasy. They work best in clinical settings like hospitals where there are a lot of germs but generally not heavily soiled hands. Also, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not good at removing harmful chemicals such as pesticides. Hand sanitizer should be kept out of the reach of young children because, if swallowed, it can cause alcohol poisoning.
- Avoid non-alcohol-based sanitizers because they can allow germs to develop resistance to the sanitizing agent. They merely reduce the growth of germs rather than killing them outright. They are also more likely to irritate skin than alcohol-based sanitizers.
- Clean under fingernails regularly with a nail file, soap and running water. Longer fingernails harbor more dirt and bacteria and more easily spread infections than short nails. Before clipping or grooming nails, properly clean nail clippers, files and other equipment, especially if tools are shared. Avoid cutting cuticles, as they act as barriers to prevent infection. Never rip or bite a hangnail; clip it with a clean nail trimmer.
- Use good hand washing technique – it’s a five-step process. Here’s what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends:
Wet your hands with clean, cool, running water; turn off the tap and apply plain soap. Using warm water can cause more skin irritation, is costlier and does not improve germ removal.
Lather your hands by rubbing them together and include the palms, backs of your hands, between fingers, around thumbs and especially under your nails.
Scrub for 15-30 seconds, depending on how dirty your hands are. The soap-friction combination helps lift dirt, grease and microbes from skin.
Rinse hands well under clean, running water.
Dry hands using a clean towel or disposable paper toweling for about 20-30 seconds. Germs can be transferred more easily to and from wet hands.
Photo by CasarsaGuru from CollectionE+